Last Sunday, the church that I usually attend cancelled its services, since there was an ice-storm. I live on the West Coast, so I was trying to find an online service that matched my time-zone. I decided to watch Grace Community Church’s service. Grace Community Church is located in California, and its pastor is John MacArthur, Jr.
The service was impressive. There was a choir, and there were nicely-dressed people in front of the choir playing violins and cellos. The words of the songs were placed on the bottom of the screen so that viewers could sing along. It was a formal, Reformed kind of service.
MacArthur preached the message, and he was starting a series on the church. MacArthur was baffled that there are people who claim to have a personal relationship with Christ, yet have no relationship with the church. For MacArthur, their relationship with Christ must not be that good, for Christ himself loves the church, and aren’t people in a relationship with Christ supposed to love what Christ loves? MacArthur was saying that church is where believers live, move, and have their being. It is where they serve, and where their spiritual desires are met. The church is their kingdom, their people. MacArthur related his own experience of the church: he grew up in it, made his friends there, and met his wife there.
MacArthur was critical of those who do church by themselves, by listening to their favorite teachers and the music that they select. MacArthur was even critical of those who live-stream their church service from the Internet! Why does his church allow people to watch its services on live-streaming, then? Maybe it’s to give us a sampler, in hope that we will desire to visit the church in person.
MacArthur does not like people listening to their church on a podcast or watching their church on the Internet. What exactly does he consider to be good enough, in terms of doing church? Is coming to church sufficient, for MacArthur? I don’t think so. MacArthur was calling loud, concert-like churches fake churches. Okay, then, is coming to MacArthur’s church sufficient? Well, not exactly. MacArthur was encouraging people to make a commitment to the church by becoming members, rather than keeping church at a distance.
MacArthur said that people may not want to commit to the church because they want to do what they want to do, when they want to do it. For MacArthur, this is an obedience-to-God issue. MacArthur asked people who keep their distance from the church if they are so wrapped up in themselves, that they cannot connect with the church.
The sermon was a little short on practicalities, but, to be fair, it is the first sermon of a series. As far as I can recall, MacArthur did not encourage people to join small groups. He did say that the church had active ministries, so perhaps he was encouraging people to participate in those. He did say that people should come to church to serve and encourage others, but my guess is that this is the sort of church where that would be difficult: you know, a big sort of church where lots of people do not know the other people there. I don’t even recall the service having a passing-of-the-peace! Maybe that occurred before the service began, I don’t know.
The sermon kind of made me mad, but I knew before I even watched the service that there was a possibility that MacArthur would say something that would make me mad. His Gospel According to Jesus put me in a spiritual tailspin for years, making me wonder if I was truly saved! Still, for some reason, I have found MacArthur to be enjoyable to read and to listen to.
In expressing his bafflement at people who profess to have a personal relationship with Christ, yet keep their distance from the church, MacArthur was likening that to being connected to the head, but not the body. He seemed to have difficulty imagining that as a possibility. On some level, I don’t find that too far-fetched to envision: I would like to think that Christ loves me and has a relationship with me, whether or not I fit in with other believers. If I cannot trust at least that, then how can I have hope? At the same time, if I find any common ground at all with this sermon, it is here: I should not just think about myself but should think about others, too.